Sorry guys, but not all yoga instructors are created equal. I have taken my share of yoga classes with inept instructors where the sequencing of postures was nonsensical and the instructor's lack of articulation cut my ears like nails on a chalkboard. Like a good yogi, I resist the urge to judge and do what I know is right for my body. A beginner might not have the good judgment to back off or do what is best for their body for fear of not being able "hang" with the rest of the crowd. Having a ballet background makes it easy for me to decipher whether or not an instructor actually understands movement or if the instructor approaches teaching yoga in a Simon says manner. Yoga is a powerful tool and without a skilled instructor the potential for serious injury is much greater. Nowadays everywhere I go someone tells me about beginning a teacher-training course with the intent of going out into the world to teach yoga. Don't get me wrong, more power to you friend; however, not everyone has it in them to be a good yoga instructor. Exposing this darker side of the yoga world--call it yoga politics-- seems like the karmic kiss of death but it is necessary. Who you practice with is the most important aspect of your yoga practice, especially if you are a beginner. Yoga instructors have more power than you might think since he or she can make or break a beginner's yogic experience for life.
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Over the last few years, I gained an indescribable sixth sense through my yoga practice. As a ballerina, heightened physical awareness is a given. However, these days my awareness is sharper than the sharpest tool in the shed encompassing my emotional and energetic fields of awareness.
The effects of a regular yoga practice penetrate deep from the outside in since we have direct access to what we see, touch, feel, hear and taste. Yogis begin by contorting their bodies into silly shapes and poses and holding them for what can often seem like an eternity. Many people turn to yoga strictly as a form of exercise as I first did. When physical limitations are met, yogis learn to stay focused, resist aversion to physical and/or psychological discomfort that might arise and as a result a shift in perception occurs. This feeling can be exhilarating and liberating and is considered by all yogis to be where the true yogic journey begins. The yoga poses, called asanas in Sandskrit, are merely metaphors for life. Asanas are situational and subject to change much like daily life. They generate the same aversions or attachments experienced in daily life. We identify and enjoy certain asanas more than others, just like we enjoy certain people, relationships and situations more than others. Yoga is a powerful tool because it brings about a revelation in the practitioner. There comes a point where suddenly one becomes fully aware of hard-wired habits and automated thought processes, which is scary… No one wants to be confronted with one’s self.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Too many people think they can't do yoga...and the reason they think this lies in their hips. Most people are quite tight in the hips because of our sedentary culture. We sit in traffic, we sit in front of our computers at work and then we come home and sit in front of our computers again as we "socialize" with our virtual friends. Excessive sitting, especially with poor posture, leads to constant flexion of the hip joint causing tightness and stiffness.
True, your hips might be tight with respect to one range of motion, but they might be very loose in another. In other words, your hip flexors could be very tight, yet you might naturally possess more external rotation in your hips than the person next to you making certain poses like pigeon pose more accessible and poses like crescent pose less accessible. This is where the beauty of personal exploration chimes in. If you are honest about your physical limitations and practice consistently and without judgement, you'll notice a refined sense of awareness when it comes to your body. You will begin understanding which poses work for your joints, which ones don’t and most importantly why.
Check out this video. I provide three hip openers for you to try. Each one stretches the hip joint differently. So try all of them on and see which one fits your body best.
Saturday, 09 July 2011
As yogis we have a heightened sense of spatial awareness. But even if you don’t practice yoga, you are still able to move your body through space. The human musculoskeletal system is so sophisticated that it allows you to move like a real live three-dimensional structure through space, unlike a paper doll. There are three planes in which all movement occurs, including the coronal (frontal), sagittal and transverse planes.
Corornal Plane: Motion viewed in this plane appears as side-to-side movements. Adduction and abduction of your limbs occur in this plane. For example, making snow angels in the winter illustrates movement in the coronal plane because the arms and legs move laterally. Another example is steering the wheel of a car. When you steer, do you place your hands at ten o’clock and at two o'clock? Why not?! It's a simple concept, yet for some reason so many L.A. drivers seem to have missed this lesson in drivers ed.
Sagittal Plane: Motion viewed in this plane is best viewed from the profile and is construed as forward and/or backward motion. Walking occurs in the sagittal plane, so does kicking a soccer ball with your foot because it involves the thigh moving forward and towards the torso. Conversely, extending the leg behind you brings the thighbone away from the torso as when a ballet dancer does an arabesque.
Transverse Plane: In the transverse plane motion is construed as rotational. Hula hooping is an activity that involves the torso twisting around its own axis in order to balance the hula-hoop around the hips.
Thursday, 30 June 2011
It’s no wonder that George Balanchine, the father of ballet in America as we know it, was such a stickler for tendus. Balanchine believed that if a dancer could execute a perfect tendu, then no step or combination of steps is unattainable. A battement tendu is a French word meaning to “stretch” or to “extend” and is a fundamental step in the classical ballet vocabulary where the foot is fully stretched so as to continue the line of the extended leg. Every time the foot leaves the ground, it has to be pointed!!! This is the 1st commandment of classical ballet! Otherwise, let's just face it...it's bad ballet. Tendus are the basis of all jumps, turns and all the seemingly effortless footwork seen in ballet. It can take years to perfect the tendu; in fact if you ask most highly trained professional dancers if they consider their tendus to be perfect they will undoubtedly reply: “Far from!”
Tendus are to ballet as tadasana is to yoga. The most fundamental asana in yoga is tadasana a.k.a. Mountain Pose. As the name suggests, the energy of this asana is strong and unbreakable like a mountain. In tadasana the feet are either together or slightly apart, the arms down with the palms at the sides of the body and the chest is lifted. It is important to keep the gaze soft by directing it at the tip of the nose to maintain the undisturbed energy generated by this asana. Tadasana is the blueprint for all postures in yoga because in tadasana the body is at its optimal alignment with the neck positioned over the shoulders, the shoulders stacked over the hips, the hips aligned over the knees and the knees positioned over the ankles. There's even weight distributed between the mounds of the big and little toes and the inner and outer heels. In tadasana the spine is maximally extended and not torqued. When the spine is elongated it allows for prana to flow through the body uninterrupted. When all the anatomical puzzle pieces fit together like this moving freely from one position to the next becomes second nature. The need to push, strain or overexert disappears and the risk for injury greatly diminishes. Additionally, when we successfully find this sense of ease in our yoga practice we can begin to pay less attention to the physicality of our movements and tap into their energetic quality. When this happens, many find it mentally soothing and therefore quite liberating.
Every sport, activity or art has its building blocks; but in my experience the building blocks of yoga often compliment those of ballet and in doing so provide me, “the ballerina,” a more comprehensive understanding of my body and a greater sense of physical awareness and mental clarity.
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
If you practice vinyasa yoga or any other physically demanding activity it's crucial to find a good bodyworker. At home, I try to do as much as I can on my own to roll out the kinks and muscle adhesions using a foam roller and other toys, but there's no comparison for getting some great bodywork. I found an amazing bodyworker at Yoga Tree in San Francisco and his name is V. Yes, V. Just V. It was quite possibly the best massage I've ever had in that not only was the pressure deep enough but V also incorporated techniques like stretching and working on the back of my body while I was lying face up! I've never experienced bodywork in this way before and it was really incredible because the weight of my own body aided V in getting deep into the bound up muscle tissue in and around my low back, gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. On top of V's technical mastery he radiated a healing and spiritual vibe that was very comforting. Being able to "hold space" in an intimate practice like bodywork or yoga is imperative because people can and do feel vulnerable underneath that little cloth separating all of them from the bodyworker and outside world. I was also impressed with how thorough V was in his work. V left no muscle unturned so to speak and because he was so thorough time seemed to slow down, which is great when you’re getting bodywork! I thought the massage was almost done but in actuality we had about another 10-15 minutes to go. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of V informing me that there was only 10 minutes left so if there's anything specific I want worked we still had enough time. Overall, a fantastic experience
Tuesday, 22 March 2011